Yale’s not the first to try expansion: look at pro sports

Bigger and better is the story — at least from the administration. I say, whatever.

Monday’s edition of the News featured three above-the-fold stories on Yale’s admissions, expansion and renovation. The New Yale, the University tells us, will serve more students from more diverse backgrounds in better living arrangements.

Two new residential colleges are in the works, and they’ll probably be built in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood. Don’t know where Dixwell is? Exactly. The proposed location is behind the Grove Street Cemetery. In other words — up Science Hill. But the school insists the plans aren’t set. “We might not build them, but if we do, it’ll be great!” They’re waiting on two committees to “fully evaluate” the plans before the Yale Corporation votes on the expansion.

But why is Yale listening to its students? What do we know? Those who forget the past, I once said, are doomed to repeat it. And though Yale College has approximately 10,000 history majors, I bet none is looking at the right examples in our past. Let me provide the necessary history lesson.

At the dawn of the 20th century (cue music), professional sports were unheard of. Who could imagine playing games for a living? Games were for children. Sport was for adults with free time and money and usually involved pheasants. Sports? Nah.

But sporting leagues began to form in the populated Northeast, organizing competitions in popular team games like Hockey, Base Ball and Ball-in-the-Hoop Game. Over the next century, these leagues folded, combined and expanded. Investors and fans watched cities grow and see opportunity. They created new teams, many of which lost money and stopped playing. But by the second half of the century, these leagues had largely stabilized and the new teams stopped going under.

Today the four major professional leagues — football’s NFL, baseball’s MLB, basketball’s NBA and hockey’s NHL — have 122 teams in 48 markets throughout the United States and Canada. Expansion occurred in two large waves, during the 1960s and again in the 1990s. The 1960s saw the addition of 29 teams across the sports, with 12 new teams in 1967 alone. Between 1988 and 2000, 23 new teams began play. This season, professional sports teams employ more than twice as many athletes as they did in 1960.

Yale beat sports leagues’ rush to expand when it started its own expansion during World War II. As reported in the News on Monday, the school added 1,000 students around the years of the war, and doubled in size to over 5,000 undergraduates between 1950 and 1975, driven in part by the first admission of women in 1969.

Sure, Yale isn’t a sports league. And sure, this column has a bunch of jokes. But the trends aren’t wholly independent. Expansion, in professional sports and at Yale, has always been driven by profit.

New teams are formed by an investor when the league determines that a regional market can support another team. The professional leagues, despite their histories, have done a remarkably good job placing teams in markets that will support them. The 22 largest metropolitan areas in the United States host 83 professional teams and only one, the Inland Empire metro area east of Los Angeles and Orange counties in California, lacks a professional team. Teams playing in small markets often have the entire market to themselves, and history on their side. In northeastern Wisconsin, football’s Green Bay Packers enjoy one of the sport’s most devoted (and profitable) fan bases, with a measly metropolitan population just under 300,000. Nonetheless, season tickets at Lambeau Field, with a capacity of 73,000, have been sold out since 1960 and nearly 75,000 Packers fans remain on the waiting list.

When teams aren’t making the money they should, owners are quick to move them. Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest market, has been without a football team since 1994, when both its teams left. The Raiders moved up the coast to Oakland, the dirty baby brother of San Francisco — and their former home — while the Rams jetted back east to St. Louis, where they began play in a beautiful new 70,000-seat dome funded by the taxpayers of the Gateway City. When leagues have expanded or teams have moved, they have done so for one reason, and it isn’t the local public schools.

Don’t let Yale fool you. Expansion will not be undertaken in the interests of prospective students. The admissions office can talk all it wants about how it wishes, just wishes, it could accept more talented applicants, but it won’t be making the decision. The University is not about to spend $600 million to provide 600 more students with a Yale education. If it spends that money, it will be as an investment. When the Yale Corporation votes in February, the vote will come down to the mathematical projections the school has performed, and the answer to its only question: Will expansion be beneficial to the University? (Read: Will it be financially beneficial? Need I point out the name Yale Corporation again?) The committees are nice, and I’ll be at my college’s “Forum Exploring New Residential Colleges” tomorrow night, but really just for fun. I don’t expect the forum to matter.

Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column appears every Tuesday.

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